In our Gospel today, Jesus tells a parable of a King who threw a big banquet and discovered those who were invited really didn’t want to go. In fact many of them had excuses. The king continues to extend his invitation to more and more people who originally weren’t invited, and banquet hall never seems to get full. There is always room for more people. Luke of course, uses this story to illustrate to his Gentile community that God’s invitation to the kingdom has been extended to include themselves. This is why Luke’s community has an inheritance in God’s kingdom. And even when the least, the last and the lost are invited, there is still more space for more people. With such a big space of inclusivity, there is no place here for elitism.
I also read this parable with the lenses of our contemporary society. I see it is profoundly true because we all have so many options which didn’t exist, 25, 50 and 100 years ago. I hope I’m not projecting too much of my own personal experience on this but throughout many of our Passionist ministries we frequently hear the same kinds of refrains. Whether it is retreat centers, parish missions or programs here in the parish, people have many sound and logical reasons why they can’t attend. And it is true people are busy with many things. Moreover, it seems as though our culture now has more options to busy ourselves with more things on any given day then we did in previous years. Many carry the expectations that they are supposed to attend all the functions, go to all the sporting events, volunteer for numerous organizations till they feel tired deep in their soul. Some parishioners I know find it difficult just to keep up with the events of all of their grandchildren. It’s a universal struggle so many of us have. It feels like there is never enough time to do the wise and healthy things we need to be doing because we are spending too much time doing the list of things someone said we should be doing. We frequently busy ourselves to the point our vision is clouded. At times I wonder, has our culture shifted some of its fundamental priorities?
When I read this parable I get a certain sense of disappointment. As a King, who is supposed to have such authority over people, he can’t seem to generate enough enthusiasm so his originally invited guests desire to be there. I’m left thinking if I lived in the Middle Ages and the King invited someone from my village to the King’s Castle, everyone in the village would know about the invitation and be talking about it many days before the departure. New clothes would need to be tailored, and sending ceremonies might include the entire village. I anticipate that there would be great festivities before the departure. The village would be enthusiastic about such an event which would certainly take several days. But today’s society would be completely different. Would the ones invited even buy new clothing, or would they settle for something in the closet that didn’t look too wrinkled? The local village, the person’s social group of friends, may congratulate the person, but certainly not do anything which would conflict with one’s busy schedule. And as for the event itself, no one would want to stay out too late. We all know there are other things happening that night, including the game that is on. Picture how awkward it could be if you had to explain to the King why you couldn’t come to his banquet because you had special tickets to a sporting event. "Sir, King, your Royalness, Yes I know you planned a big banquet party, but I can’t come to your castle tonight. I have tickets to tonight’s game".
Have we become lethargic at our personal invitation to be at the banquet of the Lord? Paul in his letter to the Romans which we also read today warns us about such a condition. He says,
Let love be sincere;
hate what is evil,
hold on to what is good;
love one another with mutual affection;
anticipate one another in showing honor.
Do not grow slack in zeal,
be fervent in spirit,
serve the Lord.
Rejoice in hope,
endure in affliction,
persevere in prayer.
Contribute to the needs of the holy ones,
Bless those who persecute you,
bless and do not curse them.
Rejoice with those who rejoice,
weep with those who weep.
Paul’s words are wise. I’m just not sure we start with these words. In order to accomplish what Paul articulates we first must have some type of engagement in our heart. He presumes there is already a passion, desire or drive. Paul simply wants to focus it and make sure it is Christ centered. But what happens when a person is too busy to even realize their love is misdirected? For me this is where the wisdom of St. Paul of the Cross enlightens us. If a person starts simply by praying reverently with the crucifix, then there is something about the power of the cross which has the ability to redirect our love, and to modify our priorities. This mission alone is just one reason why our world needs Passionists.
Fr. David Colhour, C.P. is the pastor of St. Agnes Parish in Louisville, Kentucky.